New Year’s Honours list makes me think of North Staffordshire’s unsung heroes

Stoke-on-Trent film-maker Chris Stone.

Stoke-on-Trent film-maker Chris Stone.

It’s always nice to read about ordinary local people among those recognised in the New Year’s Honours list alongside the requisite celebrities, sporting stars and captains of industry.

By ordinary I simply mean they don’t get paid a fortune, they’re not in the public eye and they don’t do what they do for power or glory.

This time I was delighted to see that one of The Sentinel’s Our Heroes Awards winners – Maureen Upton, of Meir Heath – earned an OBE for services to the voluntary sector after racking up more than 45 years working for the St John Ambulance.

I was also pleased to see Penkhull historian Richard Talbot had made the cut.

Richard’s MBE is a reward not only for the pivotal role he played in kick-starting Hanley’s Cultural Quarter but also an acknowledgement of his fund-raising for worthy local causes and his work in the community over many years.

The publication of the honours lists always makes me think of other worthy individuals who get precious little recognition.

That being the case, I humbly offer up the names of half a dozen locals who I believe help to enrich our communities and who will continue to do so throughout 2014.

First up I’d like to doff my cap to a couple of blokes who may never have met for all I know but who have a shared passion for film-making.

The first is the superbly-talented Chris Stone who, over the past few years, has produced some sparkling movies – the scenes for many of which were shot in his native North Staffordshire.

If you’ve never seen it, search out his vampire web series Blood And Bone China which has been viewed by more than 300,000 people online.

Or if you pop in to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery to view the new Staffordshire Hoard exhibition, he’s the man behind the epic movie The Last Dragonhunter which is playing in the background and includes eye-popping animation by another of my local heroes – artist Rob Pointon, of Burslem.

His kindred spirit is a film-maker who I think deserves huge recognition for his artistic endeavour.

John Williams, of Wolstanton, is currently putting the finishing touches to The Mothertown – a zombie apocalypse movie based in Burslem and involving literally hundreds of extras which is helping to raise funds for three-year-old leukaemia sufferer Frankie Allen.

Anyone who has seen John’s posts on social media and viewed his special effects handiwork can’t fail to be impressed.

But it’s his passion for the medium which inspires people and, like Chris, he’s a terrific, creative ambassador for the Potteries.

Speaking of which, I’d like to mention two other people who work tirelessly to promote their community and our city.

Alan and Cheryl Gerrard, of Fenton, were responsible for rekindling this area’s remarkable links with the Czech town of Lidice – destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War and rebuilt with the help of the people of North Staffordshire.

I first met them a few years ago when they asked for The Sentinel’s help in planning a debate to mark the 25th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike. Alan and Cheryl are both passionate advocates for the people of the Potteries which often means they aren’t popular with the powers-that-be.

However, their honest and forthright approach to campaigns such as the battle to save Fenton Town Hall and its Great War memorial have won them far more friends than enemies and I count myself among the former.

Another friend of mine whose work enhances our reputation is local sculptor Andy Edwards whose work you can see on display at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
Andy produced the nine foot statue of a Saxon warrior which takes pride of place in the foyer.

It was commissioned to celebrate the acquisition of the priceless Staffordshire Hoard and Andy is currently working on a 15 foot version, to be unveiled soon, which will stand guard outside the county council HQ in Stafford.

Andy’s other works have included statues which have been presented to Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali and Desmond Tutu.

However, a more proud and passionate Stokie you could not meet and we should be incredibly proud to call him one of our own.

Please indulge me as I mention two other people who actually work alongside me here at The Sentinel.

The first is our award-winning health reporter Dave Blackhurst who has been with this newspaper for 35 years and who is planning to retire in March.

He may not have been honoured by Her Majesty but Dave’s work has won the admiration of readers, colleagues and health professionals over three decades during which he has been an unflinching champion of his patch and its people.

Finally, a quick mention for the legend that is Dianne Gibbons – our court reporter who has been with The Sentinel for 51 years and who laid on a spread, as we call it in these parts, for her colleagues unlucky enough to be working on New Year’s Day.

If only we could bottle Dianne’s enthusiasm and pride in her job and this newspaper.

I consider it a privilege to work with both Dave and Dianne.

They may not have a gong (yet) but, like the others on my little list, they remain an inspiration to me and, I’m sure, many others.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Mark of a man who devoted his life to the force

Recent tragic events up in Manchester have served to remind us just what a vital and often dangerous job our policemen and women do, day-in, day-out.

Now squeezed by Government cuts like never before, the thin blue line is getting ever thinner – taking police levels in Staffordshire back to the days when a young bobby called Mark Judson first hit the beat.

The year was 1969 and Mark, from Stafford, had graduated from the police cadets to becoming a full-fledged PC.

Aged 19, he was posted to the outlying Wombourne station on the very fringes of the Staffordshire’s force’s jurisdiction.

Living in digs, the two and a half years he spent there were a relatively gentle introduction to the force.

Mark, now aged 61, recalls: “It was around the time when police officers started to have personal radios.

“Back then we had to carry around a transmitter and receiver. In fact, some people were using the old Army packs and carrying them on their backs as they walked the streets.

“It was a fairly laid-back job in many respects and simple acts like handing out a fine involved us carry around sheets of carbon paper to make copies.”

From the sedate pace of life as a beat bobby in Wombourne, Mark joined the traffic unit in 1972 – driving Jaguars and Ford Zephyrs along the stretch of motorway cutting through our county.

Mark said: “Back then, of course, there was nowhere the near the volume of traffic on the roads that there is now.

“At night time, for example, the M6 was relatively quiet – except for the odd lorry driver or people travelling from the West Midlands to nightspots like the Heavy Steam Machine in Hanley.”

In 1976 Mark was promoted and moved to Leek – due, in part, to the fact that the then Chief Constable Arthur Preece was able to persuade him, as a single man, to move out to the Moorlands.

At the rank of Sergeant Mark then moved to the old police HQ in Bath Street, Stafford, in 1978 – around the time that the first ‘command and control’ computers were being introduced to forces across the UK.

He also worked at Cannock, Codsall, back in the traffic unit and as an Inspector in the force control room from 1989 onwards where a cub reporter called Tideswell would regular pester him for updates.

After working as an Inspector back with the traffic unit, Mark became the Chairman of the Staffordshire Police Federation in 1998 – representing thousands of officers across the force.

It was a role he enjoyed until January, 2011 when he retired after 42 years ‘with a few tears’.

However, Mark is still involved through his new position as Chairman of the Staffordshire branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO). He assumes his role at an interesting and challenging time for the police service – amid cutbacks, an ongoing row over pensioners and the recurring debate over whether or not officers should be armed.

Mark said: “I will certainly be interested to see what the new police and crime commissioner is able to achieve when he or she is elected because it strikes me that neither candidate has any great experience of the challenges facing the police service.

“Policing has changed dramatically in recent years and a lot of that is due to technology – both what the police service uses and effect of things like the internet and mobile phones.

“The workload has also increased. It’s not that it wasn’t there during the Seventies and Eighties but these days it is far easier for people to report crimes.

“There was a time when you had to walk into a police station or find a phone box. Now, most people have mobile phones and that makes everything more immediate.”

But how has the job changed?

Mark said: “I don’t think police officers are able to use their initiative like they were in the past – which was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the job.

“Nowadays, and some will argue this is far more effective, officers are directed to take action having been given packets of intelligence.”

Does Mark think that the horrific deaths of the two female police officers in Manchester a couple of weeks ago has reminded the public of the vital work police officers do and the risks they take?

He said: “I think it has to an extent but the fact is it won’t stop the politicians forcing senior officers to make cutbacks in frontline policing.

“When I started my career we had around 1,700 police officers in Staffordshire.

“Over four decades since that time the workload has increased but our staffing levels are actually being diminished back to around that figure.

“Senior officers will disagree with this and point to the numbers of civilian staff and PCSOs.

“They will also argue, understandably, that armed officers and dog patrols are frontline.

“What has changed is that the force has fragmented in that there are so many specialist roles. We used to have general purpose police dogs.

“Now we have dogs trained to sniff out explosives or drugs, for example.”

Does Mark think being a police officer is more dangerous now than it was when he first donned a uniform?

He said: “I think it probably is and this is partly to due a lack of respect that many people have for the police and all forms of authority due to societal problems like family breakdowns, poor education and high levels of unemployment.”

As I leave Mark to enjoy his retirement with his cocker spaniel Poppy, I asked him to sum up his career.

He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a police officer. In truth I probably put too much of myself into my job. It was my life.

“I’d like to think I did some good and made a difference but I guess that’s for others to judge.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

RAF’s returning Afghan heroes to lead Vale stars out on to pitch

Port Vale is rolling out the red carpet for two servicemen who recently returned from war-torn Afghanistan.

Corporal Steve Buffey and his pal Senior Aircraftman (SAC) Pete Blakeman will have the honour of leading out the teams before tomorrow night’s home game against Dagenham and Redbridge.

Together with their families, the two die-hard Vale supporters will then be treated to a VIP match experience.

The friends are part of the close-knit team in the RAF Tactical Supply Wing which is based at Stafford.

While in Afghanistan, the unit was stationed at Camp Bastion, and was responsible for refuelling battlefield helicopters and Harrier jump jets.

They kept their morale up with regular updates from home on the fortunes of their team and through banter with another member of the team – 22-year-old SAC Alex Haycock, from Sandyford, who is an ardent Stoke City fan.

Father-of-two Cpl Buffey, aged 36, grew up in Kidsgrove but now lives in Stafford.

He is a former Clough Hall High School pupil who joined the RAF 13 years ago after working in the pottery industry.

SAC Blakeman, aged 29, who lives in Cheadle, signed up four years and is due to marry his fiancée Natalie Holdcroft in May of next year.

The idea to treat the RAF personnel to a special night at Vale Park came from users of internet fans’ forum Onevalefan (OVF).

Founder and Editor Rob Fielding explained: “Steve and Pete are users of OVF who had been corresponding with me during their recent tour of Afghanistan.

“The OVF community felt it would be really nice to honour them on their return to the UK and the club have been brilliant about it and really made an effort.

“Fingers crossed the lads can get three points for Steve and Pete.

“We are also going to use the match as an opportunity to raise funds for forces charity Help For Heroes.”

Club Secretary Bill Lodey said: “We were only too happy to help in these circumstances and pay our own special tribute to lads who are risking their lives out in the Middle East.

“We want to give them a night to remember and have other surprises planned too.

“Rob Fielding has volunteered to collect for Help For Heroes from fans in the away end and family members and friends of Cpl Buffey and SAC Blakeman will have collection tins around the other stands.

“It is a very worthy cause and we know that Vale fans will respond with their usual generosity.”

Proud to see Stoke’s Top Talent shine once again

When you are involved in the organisation of any big community event there’s always that nagging doubt: The fear that no-one will actually turn up.

In this case I needn’t have worried. When I arrived at the Victoria Hall in Hanley at half past seven on Saturday morning the queue of entrants and their supporters was already snaking around the building.

It felt like a homecoming. Stoke’s Top Talent was back after a year off and so was the buzz surrounding our showcase for home-grown stage stars.

They say the role of the media is to inform, to educate and to entertain.

Stoke’s Top Talent certainly ticks the third box and, like the Our Heroes awards which we judge tomorrow, provides this newspaper with an opportunity to champion the communities it serves.

The contestants came from all over our patch. From across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.

They came from Crewe and Congleton, Biddulph and the Moorlands, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stone, Stafford and, of course, the Potteries.

For some, simply performing in front of hundreds of people at the Vicki Hall is thrill enough. Not everyone harbours dreams of a career in showbusiness.

For example, at the age of 74, I suspect crooner Graham Horne knows that the competition is unlikely to propel him to West End stardom.

But, as he said himself, he just loves to sing in front of an audience and he did Ol’ Blue Eyes proud once again.

I reckon it would take a brave man to bet against Chell’s finest making it through to the latter stages of the contest.

In sharp contrast to Graham, there were scores of youngsters there on Saturday for whom the dream of a career in musical theatre is very much alive.

From the brilliant dance act Dolly Mix who just get better and better to guitar virtuoso David Jiminez Hughes, of Silverdale, who won a few hearts and minds at the end of a very long day.

For them Stoke’s Top Talent could well be a springboard to future success – allowing them to follow in the footsteps of Abbey Hulton dancer Aaron Corden.

He was sat right behind me on the front row, watching this year’s hopefuls with a wistful look in his eyes.

Now one of the top dancers at a prestigious performing arts school in Cambridge, Aaron has already danced for Take That and the Black Eyed Peas and will be back home in Stoke-on-Trent for Christmas appearing in the Regent Theatre panto alongside whoever wins the competition which kick-started his career.

For others with no great ambition beyond the contest itself, it was simply a case of testing the water.

Some were doing it for charity like the Dolly Tubs – four ladies with big personalities squeezed into leotards and tutus in the name of Caudwell Children.

They showed us their best sides as well as their backsides and no-one minded that we’d only just had breakfast.

Some of the contestants will have wanted to do this for years: Wanted to prove to themselves that they could stand up in front of an audience and sing, dance, tell jokes or perform tricks.

Whatever their reasons for getting involved, the 147 acts who had their moment in the spotlight on Saturday can be rightly proud of themselves for having the bottle to get up on that stage.

For me, being a judge will always be something of a surreal experience because I’m just a punter.

I’m not in the industry. I don’t do am dram. There are so many people more qualified than yours truly who could be judging the contestants.

But that’s why Jonny Wilkes and Christian Patterson were there. That’s why panto producer Kevin Wood (‘the judge with the grudge’) and West End star Louise Dearman will be at the heats and grand final in September – along with a host of other famous faces.

Me? Well, I once embarrassed himself in panto but my main qualification is that I have the distinction of having sat through every single Stoke’s Top Talent audition and heat since year one.

I just try to say what I see – which isn’t always easy when Jonny Wilkes is writing inappropriate comments on your judging sheet, trying to make you laugh when you’re speaking and stitching you up with the voting.

Ever the performer, you have to be on your toes with our Jonny when there’s a mic around.

Even so, it was a wonderful day which I could tell meant a lot to Jonny. Christian, meanwhile, seemed genuinely blown away at the calibre of some of the acts. He wasn’t alone.

It was a day of raw emotion ranging from the nerves of first-time contestants to the elation of those put through to the callbacks.

Then there was the genuine pleasure of seeing a few familiar faces return stronger and better with two years’ worth of practice under their belts.

On Saturday we have the unenviable task of cutting the remaining 110 acts down to just 50 who will contest the heats.

It really is a case of comparing apples and pears when gymnasts, dancers, singers, musicians, comedians, a drag queen and a mentalist go head-to-head.

However, unlike some of the the TV talent shows which make a point of poking fun at some of their contestants, Stoke’s Top Talent is a win-win for all concerned.

Everyone will get their moment in the sun and everyone will walk away with huge respect from the judges, their fellow competitors and the audiences.

What’s more, someone will walk away with a cash prize of £2,000 a professional theatre contract.

For me, though, it’s all about generating pride. Pride in our communities and pride in the potential of local people to aspire to great and memorable moments which will stay with them all their lives.

*The callback auditions for Stoke’s Top Talent take place on Saturday (August 4) at the Victoria Hall in Hanley, starting at 9.30am and are free to watch.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

Why not try the theatre? You might just enjoy yourself

It would certainly make for interesting reading if the people of North Staffordshire were surveyed to ask them whether or not they go to the theatre on a regular basis.

I suspect the numbers who would answer ‘yes’ are pretty small. Maybe 10 per cent at best.

The truth is that, aside from the annual trip for a Christmas pantomime, most families don’t give much thought to watching live stage productions.

It’s simply not high on their list of priorities.

While tens of thousands flock to watch Premier League Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium once a fortnight and 5,000-plus visit Vale Park to see my lot play, local theatres are forced to eke out an existence.

This is a crying shame when you consider the wonderful venues we have here in the Potteries.

In The New Vic at Basford we have Europe’s first, purpose-built theatre-in-the-round putting on many home-cooked shows every year as well as top-drawer touring productions.

In Hanley we have no less than three superb auditoriums. The newly-refurbished Mitchell Youth Arts Centre, the magnificent Regent theatre and the grand old Victoria Hall.

Those of us with long memories may still wince at the city council’s Cultural Quarter overspend but no-one can say the project didn’t gift us two bloody great, very distinct city centre venues.

In addition, we shouldn’t forget the Queen’s Theatre in Burslem and equally fine Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre on Leek Road.

All of the above put on superb live entertainment but, sadly, this is very often in front of half-empty houses.

Despite being privately-run businesses, many theatres rely heavily on local authority subsidies which – in the current climate – are harder to justify than ever before.

So why the apathy? Why aren’t more people choosing the theatre for a good night out?

Some people will doubtless blame the cost – although it’s certainly less expensive than tickets for a football match (depending where you sit) – and probably on a par with a trip to the cinema.

Others will blame the lack of variety and the quality of the shows on offer.

However, the reality is that if you look across all our local venues there is usually something to suit the taste (and pockets) of everyone.

If you ask me I reckon the reason that most people don’t go to the theatre is because a) they view it as the preserve of the middle classes or b) they’ve never experienced a live show. Or both.

Perhaps it’s the fault of schools. Or perhaps it’s our demographic.

I know some blokes who wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a theatre – preferring to sit in their local boozer or in front of the telly every night than stepping outside of their comfort zone to watch a stage performance.

The great tragedy of this is that they don’t know what they are missing and the theatres are missing them.

The great irony is that local drama schools are filled with bright-eyed, enthusiastic and multi-talented youngsters itching to perform in front of bigger audiences.

Many of them, along with a few contestants who are a little longer in the tooth, will be taking part in this year’s Stoke’s Top Talent competition which kicks off in less than two weeks’ time.

All of them, I know, would dearly love your support.

The show is called Stoke’s Top Talent but in truth the acts will come from all over The Sentinel’s patch – from Biddulph and Congleton to Newcastle, Leek, Stafford and Stone – as well as the Potteries.

Through the competition, which offers cash prizes and a pantomime contract, they will get to appear on stage at the Victoria Hall and possibly The Regent theatre where the heats and grand final will take place.

Among the 170-plus acts taking part in the auditions will be bands, singers, musicians, dancers, impersonators, magicians and comedians.

The competition is championed by our own stage star Jonny Wilkes who gives up his time for free to work with the contestants and compere the show.

Stoke’s Top Talent is the reason that teenage dancer Aaron Corden, from Abbey Hulton, is now living the dream of working towards a career in musical theatre.

Self-taught from watching videos of Michael Jackson on the internet, he once carried a bench from Northwood Park to The Regent theatre to provide a prop for his act.

Having performed as a dancer for none other than Take That and the Black Eyed Peas over the last 18 months, he is now one of the top students at a prestigious performing arts school in Cambridge.

But a week on Saturday Aaron will be back at the Victoria Hall where his journey began, to watch this year’s hopefuls as they try to impress the judges.

Why don’t you join him and a very partisan crowd for the auditions?

It is a free-of-charge family day out and gives people who have perhaps never seen inside the place which recently played host to made-in-Stoke-on-Trent rock god Slash the chance to look around.

As someone who’s been lucky enough to appear in panto at The Regent and be a judge for Stoke’s Top Talent, I can assure you that you’ll be in for a treat.

*The auditions for Stoke’s Top Talent are free to watch and take place at the Victoria Hall in Hanley from 10am on Saturday, July 28 – with the call-backs the following Saturday, August 4.

The closing date for entries for Stoke’s Top Talent is Friday, July 20, and anyone interested in entering can download the application form by logging on to: http://www.stokestoptalent.com

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

Never mind the election… what about our manifesto?

As Gordon Brown and David Cameron are busy peddling the policies they hope will propel them to 10 Downing Street, I thought I’d have a dabble at my own manifesto – specifically for North Staffordshire.

As Stoke-on-Trent celebrates the centenary of the federation of the six towns, what better time to take stock of where we are as a city and a region and plot a vision for a brighter future?

With a newly-arrived chief executive at the city council, a new face arriving in the role of the Stoke-on-Trent Central MP and a transfusion of new blood via the local elections, I think opportunity genuinely knocks for our neck of the woods.

Let’s hope we don’t ignore it.

This is my wish-list to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st century…

*Forget parochialism and create a North Staffordshire authority serving nigh on half a million people – including the city, Newcastle, Leek, Biddulph and Cheadle and do away with the present, inefficient hotchpotch of local councils. Let’s face it, we’ve all got more in common with each other than we have with Stafford, Tamworth or Lichfield. I would suggest it is better to start speaking with one voice which would give us far more clout nationally. Such a merger would also enable us to get rid of many of the public sector non-jobs created in recent years. Perhaps then we could balance our budgets.

*Get serious about regeneration and deliver the key foundations to our economic recovery and future prosperity. How many times have we been shown plans of glass bottle kilns and the like which never come to fruition? Hanley desperately needs the long-awaited new bus station and the East-West shopping precinct so let’s ride a coach and horses through the bureaucracy and get them built. The University Quarter, or UniQ, and the Business District must become a reality rather than limping along as artists’ impressions. By the same token, our MPs and councillors must lobby like their lives depend upon in it in the coming months to ensure that, irrespective of which party wins the General Election, the hundreds of millions of pounds of funding currently transforming our estates via regeneration agency Renew North Staffordshire doesn’t dry up halfway through the process.

*Throw all our weight behind the Next Stop Stoke campaign to ensure the £60 billion high-speed rail network comes to North Staffordshire. We must ensure Stoke-on-Trent is selected as a stop on the flagship HS2 inter-city project or we run the risk of missing out on investment, jobs and tourism.

*If we don’t want to become a cultural desert then we need to stop quibbling about subsidies for The Regent Theatre and accept that if you want a top class venue in the city centre then, like other major cities, you have to be prepared to spend serious public money to help a private operator earn a crust. The benefits to our economy, the social life of the sub-region and the aspirations of future generations are there for all to see.

*Bring our home-grown football stars, role-model Olympic hopefuls and local celebrities together for a campaign to tackle North Staffordshire’s chronic obesity problem run through every single school in the city, Newcastle and the Staffordshire Moorlands. Tie this in with major renovation and promotion of our parks, public open spaces and excellent cycle routes to encourage more people to become active and fitter.

*Act now to capitalise on the huge public interest in the Staffordshire Hoard. As I suggested previously, let’s have a campaign to build a huge, great statue of a Saxon warrior visible for miles just off the M6 passing through Stoke-on-Trent and luring in visitors to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Let’s market ourselves as the home of the Hoard and completely renovate the venue to make the Hoard exhibition a tourist attraction of international significance. The time has come for us to stop marketing ourselves solely on our industrial past and find a new identity.

Do your bit to save the Staffordshire Hoard

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The British Museum, examining Hoard items.

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The British Museum, examining Hoard items.

The huge, wood-panelled doors opened and we were led down a long corridor flanked with hundreds of books in glass cases.

Our footsteps echoed off the marble floor as we walked.

We halted at a set of electronically-locked doors. Phone calls were made and, after several minutes, they eventually buzzed open.

The room was what you would expect from the bowels of the British Museum.

It was like the library of some stately home in an Agatha Christie novel, or the setting for some vital plot line in a Dan Brown page-turner.

There were wall-to-wall books on two levels and the feng shui of a room devoted to scholarly pursuits was only disrupted by a large, beige, metal cupboard with a chunky electronic lock.

Out of it were carried half a dozen plastic boxes full of smaller plastic boxes. Each one was numbered with a raffle ticket – strange, but completely logical given the number and variety of objects they contained.

The treasure keeper, Ian, took the lid off the first box – and that’s when I got my first glimpse of the Staffordshire Hoard.

It is genuinely breathtaking to be up close and personal to something so old, so valuable and so very rare.

It didn’t matter that some of the objects were tiny or broken.

I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest by the fact that many were still crusted with the earth from which they had been plundered.

In a way, that clinging dirt was symbolic of Staffordshire not wanting to give up one of the most remarkable archaeological treasures ever found in this country.

One by one I viewed the items – some no bigger than your little finger – from every angle.

There were sword pyramids, pommel pieces, tiny golden snake clasps and eye-piece adornments believed to have come from a warrior’s helmet.

None of it has yet been viewed by the public, that is until these items arrive at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Hanley later this week.

All this stuff, the booty of battle or a king’s treasury, was buried about 1,300 years ago by people who took its location to their graves.

History doesn’t come much more raw than this.

As one archaeologist put it: “You know the warriors from Beowulf, or the Riders of Rohan in Lord of the Rings? Those are the kind of people we are talking about when we refer to the Staffordshire Hoard.”

She had me at Beowulf…

“They placed in the barrow that precious booty,
the rounds and the rings they had reft erewhile,
hardy heroes, from hoard in cave,
trusting the ground with treasure of earls,
gold in the earth, where ever it lies…”

Although these 1,600 gold and silver items were found in the most remarkable circumstances in a field just south of Lichfield, they are as important to the people of Stoke-on-Trent as they are to our friends in Tamworth, Lichfield, Stafford and Birmingham.

For, not only is The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery the recognised repository for all archaeology found in Staffordshire, but we are also at the heart of the ancient kingdom of Mercia from where these precious artifacts come.

So what can you expect?

Well, for starters, prepare to be surprised. The wonders of modern photography show up the shiny brilliance of each golden fragment in wondrous detail.

These images are used large in the media and on posters and display boards to enhance the experience for viewers and visitors.

In reality, most of the pieces are tiny – no bigger than a couple of centimetres – fragile and still caked in soil.

Even so, together with the larger mangled cross, helmet cheek piece, and a chunk of gold bearing a latin inscription from the Bible, they are all, in their own way, magnificent.

The craftsmanship is truly astonishing.

However, in order to ensure these windows to our past remain in the West Midlands, £3.3 million must be raised to purchase the Staffordshire Hoard.

But, as well as putting your hand in your pocket, it is equally important that we support the campaign by voting with our feet – as the people of Birmingham did.

Archaeologists, historians, politicians and celebrities all want the bid to succeed.

Now it is up to the people of the Potteries to demonstrate just how much our history means to us.

Please play your part.